Don’t be a Tool
Construction Month – An opportunity for employers in ALL industries to reflect on the benefits of diversity and equity.
April is Construction and Skilled Trades Month in BC. Whether or not your organization is within the construction industry, it’s highly likely that construction and skilled trades affect you in some way, whether professionally or personally. Accordingly, construction month provides an opportunity to acknowledge the industry’s impact and the exceptional talent of construction/skilled trade workers across BC. It also highlights some of the challenges that the industry continues to face, many of which are not unique to construction or skilled trades. In recognition of this month and following upon several of our recent posts (e.g. Pay Equity, International Women’s Day and Unconscious Bias), we thought it would be a good time to highlight some of these challenges.
Without question, the construction industry continues to be extraordinarily male-dominated. While there are over 200,000 construction workers in BC, only 3,600 are registered female apprentices. Further, based on 2017 statistics, women represent only 4.7% of those employed in trades overall, and less than 4% in many key trades. Not only are women vastly under-represented, gender bias continues to be a reality within the industry. Due to the impact of bias (along with harassment, hazing, bullying, etc.), it can be difficult to hire, but more so, to retain women, up to 50% of whom leave the industry during their first year.
While these numbers are most striking in the construction industry, there are parallels with other industries, such as gaming, architecture and STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and math). For example, a survey published in 2018 by the International Game Developers Association noted that of 963 employees, 74% identified as males, 61% as white/Caucasian/European and 81% as heterosexual. Further, according to McLean’s Canada, although more women are attaining STEM degrees, their percentage working in these fields has only increased by about 2-3% since 1987, when it was only 20%. Additionally, women in these fields are paid on average 7% less than their male counterparts.
Regardless of what industry the gender gap or other lack of diversity exists in, the effects are similar. Moreover, it’s not only the target of bias, harassment or other unacceptable behaviour who suffers–but also the overall environment and culture in terms of morale, productivity, quality, etc. Particularly in safety-sensitive environments, these issues can and do impact both the prevalence and seriousness of accidents, as well as the overall culture of safety.
Despite the startling statistics noted above, positive steps are being taken to help retain women and other minority groups working within the construction industry. Of note, the BC Construction Association, working in collaboration with the Province of BC and several industry partners, has recently launched a program with the aim of bringing (and maintaining) the percentage of women in the construction industry to 10% by 2028. A fundamental component of this program, the Builder’s Code, was developed to set a standard code of conduct for all construction/skilled trade workers and provide tools to employers for holding their employees accountable to it. In doing so, it outlines what an Acceptable Worksite is, with the premise that safety isn’t just about protecting employees from physical hazards, but also from hazardous interpersonal behaviour.
Whether your organization is in the construction or skilled trades field or another traditionally non-diverse environment, as an employer, it’s important to understand the positive impact that diverse workforces can have. Diverse and equitable work environments not only positively influence morale and productivity, but they also significantly contribute to a more inclusive, respectful and innovative environment overall. Employing people with diverse backgrounds and experience is associated with broader diversity in talent and ideas, which in turn impacts quality, products and services. Doing so also positively impacts customer service and relations, even providing a competitive advantage. For example, a small electrical company we know intentionally employs and supports female electricians; as a result, they’ve gained a solid and growing reputation amongst female customers who are primary homeowners.
Last, but not least, is the financial benefit of having a diverse workforce. Non-diverse and non-equitable workforces suffer the impact and costs of turnover, rehiring, lost time due to accidents, health care costs, investigations, mediation, legal action, and having to constantly navigate issues between employees.
On the flip side, an intentionally diverse and equitable culture mitigates these issues by setting clear expectations from the outset and holding all employees accountable to their policies and values. Starting with the hiring process, these employers eliminate barriers right away; source employees from a variety of places; ensure the opportunities they provide are equitable to all candidates (regardless of sex, gender, ethnic origin, etc.); and compensate equitably with retention in mind.
Upon hire, they set employees up for success by providing training and mentoring (and role models where possible); managing performance fairly; training their supervisors to treat their staff fairly and equitably–and holding them accountable to doing so; and wherever possible, they accommodate family and personal responsibilities. These employers don’t wait for issues to arise to address them; rather, they are proactive with awareness building and training on bias/unconscious bias and its impact, provide a safe place to bring issues forward, immediately work to resolve issues, and expect/hold their managers accountable to leading by example.
Overall, diversity and equity benefit everyone!
Once again, whether your organization is part of the construction/skilled trades industry or not, we encourage you to consider how you can proactively ensure a more diverse and equitable culture. Accordingly, we invite you to celebrate BC Construction Month by enjoying the Builder’s Code’s humorous #dontbeatool campaign.